20 Facts You Never Knew About Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Even though there had been literally dozens of Dracula movies over the years, none of them captured the original story quite the same way as 1992 production Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Directed by the legendary Francis Ford Coppola with a cast including Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves and Anthony Hopkins, this bold take on the classic horror novel was unlike anything audiences had ever seen.
All these years later, Bram Stoker’s Dracula has not lost its power to thrill, enthrall and entertain – but did you know the following facts about the film?
20. Gary Oldman hired a voice coach to make his Dracula voice spookier
Gary Oldman always gives his all to his roles, and he didn’t let up on Coppola’s film. Count Dracula is one of the most iconic monsters in all popular culture, so the English actor was determined to do it justice – and naturally, this meant that Oldman could not play the role with his native London accent.
To get his voice just right for his role, Oldman worked on an Eastern European accent, and sought to find a new vocal tone with the help of a voice coach. Under the coach’s guidance, Oldman was able to lower his voice by a whole octave, in order to give his Dracula the ghoulish tone he felt the part demanded.
19. The laws of physics work differently when Dracula is around
During preproduction for the film, Francis Ford Coppola decided to implement an interesting concept. In order to really get across that the film was set in a supernatural world, the director decided that the laws of physics would not be the same when beings such as vampires were around.
To convey this, Coppola decided that shadows would move independently, with rats running across the ceiling and water dripping upwards. This wasn’t the only magic featured on the set, as Coppola had a few tricks up his sleeve. The team consulted with a real life magician in order to perfect the scene where Dracula’s brides rise up from the bed.
18. The cast did a read-through of the whole novel before shooting the film
Before filming the movie, Coppola wanted the Dracula cast to get a good feel for the story. In order to achieve this, he got the principal cast of the movie together to do a read-through of the original Dracula novel out loud. According to Anthony Hopkins, this task took two days to complete.
Coppola wanted to focus on the emotional aspects of the story, and requested that the actors consider this in their interpretation. The cast were also invited to point out anything missing from the novel which they felt should be included – which resulted in all of them requesting their parts be made bigger!
17. Mina’s past life recollection secretly references Dracula’s origins
In the scene where Winona Ryder’s character recalls her past life as Elisabeta, she states that she can remember a land beyond a great forest. This is a nice little Easter Egg for Dracula devotees, as the literal translation of the word Transylvania is ‘Land Beyond the Forest’.
The Count’s origins are also referenced in the scene where Dracula serves Jonathan Harker dinner after he arrives at the castle, with the count mentioning his ancestors were members of the Order of the Dracul, a real order in the 1400s. Vlad Tepes, on whom Dracula was loosely based, was known as Draculea, meaning “son of the Dragon.”
16. Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder didn’t get along during filming
During rehearsals, Winona Ryder and Gary Oldman seemed to get on well, and even became friends. However, after they began to start filming, Ryder and Oldman seemed to suffer a falling out and at the atmosphere between the pair on set was tense, although no one else knew quite what had happened.
Ryder later revealed that she ‘felt there was a danger’ whilst working with Oldman, and found the intensity of his acting style too intense, which Oldman took offence to. However, the actress says that she and Oldman have long since made peace, and that the two of them are friends today.
15. Keanu Reeves blamed his much-criticised performance on exhaustion
Keanu Reeves was slated by critics and audiences alike for his performance in Dracula, with one critic describing him as ‘out of his depth’. The American actor’s attempt at an English accent was also cited as being ‘the worst accent in recorded film.’ One particularly scathing review stated that Reeves had to ‘visibly restrain himself from ending every sentence with ‘dude.'”
Reeves (who was still best known for the Bill & Ted films at the time) defended his poor performance, claiming that he did Bram Stoker’s Dracula on the back of several other productions and he was physically exhausted as a result. Reeves argued that he had tried to raise his energy for the role but just didn’t have anything left to give, leaving him unhappy with his final performance.
14. Liam Neeson wanted to play Van Helsing
Many high profile actors have played the part of Professor Abraham Van Helsing in various productions of the Dracula story, including Hugh Jackman and Christopher Plummer. For Coppola’s Dracula, Liam Neeson put himself forward for the role of Professor Abraham Van Helsing and was heavily considered for the part.
Neeson was relatively well known at the time, although not to the extent as he would be post-Schindler’s List. Unfortunately for Neeson, once Anthony Hopkins showed interest in the role, it was offered to him. At the time, Hopkins was still riding high on the success of The Silence of the Lambs, and had producers clamouring for his attention.
13. The original trailer was dropped because it was deemed ‘too intense’ for general audiences
The first trailer for Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a teaser which showed the film’s title being formed from a pool of blood on a jagged surface, accompanied by flashes of scenes from the movie and a sinister soundtrack. However, this was ultimately deemed too intense to show in cinemas for general audiences and had to be dropped.
The studio also asked producers to remove some of the more graphic scenes from the movie. There were concerns that it would be too violent and sexual for the preferred R-rating, and would instead see the film rated NC-17, which was consider a kiss of death at the box office. The filmmakers willingly obliged and toned down the more full-on material.
12. Gary Oldman took the part because of a single line in the script
When he read through the script, Gary Oldman decided to take the part of Count Dracula because he was drawn to one particularly poetic and romantic line of dialogue. Apparently, he loved the thought of being able to say the line “I’ve crossed oceans of time to find you” to someone.
Oldman later admitted that Dracula was never a ‘bucket list’ role for him. One of the main attractions for him was the chance to work with legendary director Francis Ford Coppola, as the actor considered Coppola one of the greatest living directors thanks to The Godfather films, Apocalypse Now and The Conversation.
11. There’s only one modern visual effects shot in the entire film
Coppola was insistent that practical effects were used as much as possible and refused to resort to modern visual effects for the film. When an FX company told him his demands were unrealistic, Coppola fired them and enlisted his son Roman Coppola to achieve the effects using old-school cinematic trickery.
Almost every special effect on Bram Stoker’s Dracula was achieved live on camera, with the use of makeup, puppets, mirrors, shadows, projections and forced perspective miniatures. There is only a single use of CGI late in the film, when we see Dracula spontaneously transform from a decrepit old man back into his more youthful form.
10. The crew were too embarrassed to ask the Dracula bride actresses to play their scenes nude
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is famous for being one of the most overtly sexual filmed adaptations of the novel, and one of the most memorable scenes in this regard comes when Keanu Reeves’ Jonathan is seduced by Dracula’s three brides – one of whom is a young Monica Bellucci.
As part of their contracts, all three actresses had agreed to appear naked in the film. However, when the time came, everyone in the crew – including the director – were too embarrassed to actually ask them to remove their clothes. The director asked his son Roman, who was also too shy. Finally, a stagehand agreed to ask the actresses to disrobe, and they happily agreed.
9. Coppola insisted on including ‘Bram Stoker’ in the film’s title
As there are so many other Dracula movies, the decision to entitle the 1992 film Bram Stoker’s Dracula helps it stand apart. Director Francis Ford Coppola has said this is a tradition of crediting author’s names in films based on novels; i.e. Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, and later John Grisham’s The Rainmaker.
Not everyone agrees that Coppola added the ‘Bram Stoker’s’ suffix purely for artistic reasons, though. It has been suggested he was obliged to do so for legal reasons, as the film was a Columbia Pictures production, and the one-word title ‘Dracula’ was copyrighted by another studio, Universal (who produced the first official film of the novel in 1931).
8. Gary Oldman carried a photo of his infant son with him for particularly emotional scenes
In order to fully immerse himself in the role of Dracula, Oldman went to some rather extreme measures. In the scene where he grieves over Elisabeta’s corpse, he was required to look suitably distraught. To achieve this, Oldman carried around a photo of his young son Alfie, and would look at it prior to takes for inspiration.
While Oldman does not consider himself a method actor, it is known that the actor was in a volatile emotional state at the time Bram Stoker’s Dracula went into production. His second marriage to Uma Thurman was collapsing, he was struggling with alcoholism, and he had difficult relationships on set both with co-star Winona Ryder and director Francis Ford Coppola.
7. The studio forced Coppola to build sets rather than spend all his budget on costumes
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a very distinctive film visually, but originally Francis Ford Coppola had something even more unusual in mind. Originally, the director wanted to focus purely on costumes on Dracula, as he felt that the actors were ‘jewels’ and lavish costumes would emphasise this.
Beyond this, Coppola planned to shoot the film along the lines of ‘black box’ theatre, with a blank backdrop, minimal props and use of shadows and light to create an ominous atmosphere. Even though this would have significantly reduced the budget, executives at studio Columbia Pictures were turned off by this idea and insisted Coppola shoot on more traditional sets.
6. The costume designer had never seen a Dracula film before
Costume designer Eiko Ishioka had never seen any Dracula adaptations prior to being hired to work on the film. She was initially hired as the film’s art director, but Coppola felt that her true talents went beyond this. After seeing some of her design sketches, the director and producer proposed that she take on a new role.
Ishioka was Japanese, which may explain the overtones of Japan’s traditional Kabuki theatre in many of the designs. Oldman’s wig maker and hair designer made a point of studying traditional Kabuki and Geisha hairstyles to incorporate them into the unique and elaborate designs (hence Oldman’s famously bizarre hairdo as the old Count).
5. Gary Oldman behaved inappropriately with his female co-stars
Winona Ryder struggled to convey the appropriate response to seeing Dracula for the first time. To ‘help,’ Oldman grabbed a courgette off of a vegetable cart and hid it behind his back when Mina was across the street. When she approached him, he pulled out the courgette and flashed it in front of his groin, quickly eliciting the reaction Francis Ford Coppola had sought after.
This wasn’t the only time Oldman behaved in a manner which might be considered inappropriate by today’s standards. At one point, Coppola asked the actor to speak to Sadie Frost in a sensual manner to help get her in the right mood for a scene. Oldman proceeded to shock both Frost and Coppola with some extremely graphic, X-rated murmurings.
4. Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder may have been married by accident on the film
Bram Stoker’s Dracula features a scene in which Winona Ryder’s Mina and Keanu Reeves’ Jonathan are married. This wedding scene was a re-shoot, which took place at a real Greek Orthodox church in Los Angeles. The ceremony was performed on camera to the letter, and the priest in the scene is not an actor, but a bona fide ordained Orthodox priest.
This being the case, it is believed by some – Coppola and Ryder included – that, while not a legal ceremony, the wedding was technically official in the eyes of God, and as such Reeves and Ryder are married for real. Reeves and Ryder have continued to joke about this in interviews in more recent years; tellingly, the actors also reunited in 2018 rom-com Destination Wedding.
3. The film was originally going to be a TV movie
Ryder first saw the script when it was going to be made as a television movie, which was set to be directed by Michael Apted. However, the actress saw promise in the screenplay, and so she decided to take the script to Coppola. The pair had not seen one another since she had withdrawn from The Godfather Part III due to exhaustion.
The meeting was originally set up to discuss an adaption of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, but Ryder happened to mention the script as she was leaving. Coppola had loved the novel and the early Dracula movies growing up, and was immediately keen on the idea. He agreed to make the movie, with Michael Apted staying on as executive producer.
2. The movie drew inspiration from other Dracula adaptations
Several elements of the film were taken from previous adaptations of Dracula. One example is the shot of Dracula rising from his coffin for the first time, which is taken from 1922’s Nosferatu, the first (unofficial) filmed version of the novel. In addition, the line of dialogue ‘I never drink…wine’ has also been used in several prior Dracula movies, most famously the original 1931 version.
The idea of Dracula coming to England to find his reincarnated lost love was first featured in the 1974 TV movie of Dracula starring Jack Palance. Finally, the scene where the lunatics in the asylum are rioting to signal the coming of Dracula was taken from the 1979 version starring Frank Langella.
1. Oldman thinks that Coppola wanted him to have sex in a coffin
Coppola gave certain gifts to his cast members to help them embrace their characters. In the case of Gary Oldman, the director naturally gifted his Dracula actor with a real coffin. Cary Elwes has said that Oldman slept in this coffin every night throughout production, but Oldman himself tells a slightly different story.
Appearing on Conan O’Brien, Oldman said that he believes Coppola sent him the coffin because “he wanted me to have sex in it.” The actor did not confirm whether this ever happened, but he did say that he showed the coffin to some female guests when he threw a house party; the actor recalls they very quickly excused themselves, and he never saw them again.